The alpine area of the Australian mainland is highly sensitive to climate and environmental change, and potentially vulnerable to ecosystem tipping points. Over the next two decades the Australian alpine region is predicted to experience temperature increases of at least 1 °C, coupled with a substantial decrease in snow cover. Extending the short instrumental record in these regions is imperative to put future change into context, and potentially provide analogues of warming. We reconstructed past temperatures, using a lipid biomarker palaeothermometer technique and mercury flux changes for the past 3500 years from the sediments of Club Lake, a high-altitude alpine tarn in the Snowy Mountains, southeastern Australia. Using a multi-proxy framework, including pollen and charcoal analyses, high-resolution geochemistry, and ancient microbial community composition, supported by high-resolution 210Pb and AMS 14C dating, we investigated local and regional ecological and environmental changes occurring in response to changes in temperature. We find the region experienced a general warming trend over the last 3500 years, with a pronounced climate anomaly occurring between 1000 and 1600 cal yrs. BP. Shifts in vegetation took place during this warm period, characterised by a decline in alpine species and an increase in open woodland taxa which co-occurred with an increase in regional fire activity. Given the narrow altitudinal band of Australian alpine vegetation, any future warming has the potential to result in the extinction of alpine species, including several endemic to the area, as treelines are driven to higher elevations. These findings suggest ongoing conservation efforts will be needed to protect the vulnerable alpine environments from the combined threats of climate changes, fire and invasive species.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Environmental Engineering
- Environmental Chemistry
- Waste Management and Disposal